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Trip Report Me, myself and Dordogne – 2 weeks in the Beautiful French Countryside

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Background

I spent 2 weeks in the Dordogne area from June 25 to July 9 2011 as part of a 3-month holiday (April 28-July 16 – yep, almost maxing out my 90-day stay in the EU as a Canadian!) in Western Europe to celebrate a milestone birthday. Although I have been to Europe many times before (eg: annual trips to Europe, worked in Brussels, study abroad in Vienna during uni, my partner is from Germany which means many German holidays with his family), I saw this trip as an opportunity to see things I haven’t had a chance to see before or would be more difficult to see as a 2-week vacation. I must say that the trip planning (which started about 5-months prior to the start of the trip) was almost as fun as the trip itself – the excitement of trying to find the “perfect” hotel/B&B, the joy of scoring the cheapest train ticket available to reading the insider tips from fellow fodorites who have been to my destinations before.

My apologies that this trip report is so late as I had started a new job after coming back home so my schedule has been really busy until now. After nearly a 3- month hiatus from the Fodor community, I recently started reading posts and trip reports again. Ahh…all the wonderful trips down the memory lane and an abundant source of great information. I then realize I really want to write a trip report to share with fellow Fodorites. I would like say a special thank you to everyone who has helped me plan this 3-month holiday. My trip wouldn’t have been the same without your advice and insider tips – thank you for your generosity and patience. I hope you will all enjoy my trip report.


Why Dordogne

This 2-week holiday in Dordogne was like a holiday from a holiday which was much needed after traveling for 8 weeks prior with family and friends! I was alone for most of this trip aside from 4 days when a childhood friend flew in from London to join me in Saralat.

I always knew I wanted to incorporate the French countryside as part of my 3-month travel plans but I really had no idea which part of France I wanted to go to. This is my first time in the French country side and I didn’t even know about the beauty of the Dordogne area until I started reading this forum to research about other parts of my trip. So really, I chose Dordogne because of all raves and reviews about the area on this forum!

I dedicate my first ever trip report to Dordogne as I think it’s probably the highlight of my 3-month vacation. When/If I get around to writing trip reports for the other parts of my 3-month travels, I will label them under their respective countries :)

Dordogne Itinerary

Fly from Lisbon to Toulouse with Easyjet
Cordes – 2 nights
Rocamadour – 2 nights
Sarlat – 5 nights
St. Cyprien – 5 nights
Fly out of Brive to London with Cityjet

Logistics
I had just finished Lisbon and parted way with my friend who was flying home from the Lisbon airport while I boarded an Easyjet flight to Toulouse (55 euros). I had paid the extra 10 euros for the speedy access which I think is well worth it as you get to be the first on the plane, get to choose a seat in the front of the plane and have lots of overhead luggage space. But I think the best part about speedy boarding is getting to use a priority line at the check-in. My goodness – the line at the Lisbon airport was very long (I think I would have stood in line for at least 60 mins)! Luckily, I was done with check-in in about 15 minutes using the priority line.

The flight from Lisbon to Toulouse left on time and was uneventful. I was the only person who had purchased the speedy boarding so I was the first one on the plane and chose the first row on the plane (lots of leg room!).

I picked up my luggage and walked over to the Europcar counter which was located right next to the luggage conveyor belt among other rental car company desks. Picking up the rental car was perhaps that part that created the most anxiety for me. I was worried about not getting an automatic (even though I had paid for an automatic via Kemwel. Oh and I can’t drive manual.) and being asked to sign a waiver to say that I would pay Europcar for any damages up to the full cost of the car although I had purchased zero-deductible insurance through Kemwel (this actually happened to us when we picked up our Europcar rental in Rennes just 8 weeks prior although we had also purchased zero-deductible insurance from Kemwel).

Here’s my post on the forum re: this ‘waiver form” shenigan with Europcar:

http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/kemwel-europcar-cdw-insurance-with-zero-deductible.cfm

But luckily, my anxiety soon faded after a very competent and nice gentleman helped me with my reservation at the Europcar counter. I asked him about the “waiver form” and his response was “We don’t even need to talk about insurance because you have purchase zero-deductible insurance”. He says the only automatic he has was either a Smart car or an A-series Mercedes. He suggested I take the A-series and assured me that the car is a very small and an easy-to-handle car (I specifically told him I don’t want a big car!). He says the car is just being cleaned and I just need to walk 400 yards to the Europcar parking lot and show my “ticket” to the customer service reps there to pick up my car. I easily found the Europcar parking lot (outdoor, just straight ahead of the airport exit) with my huge luggage, duffel bag (put on top of my luggage) and my purse. The guy at the Europcar “hut” handed the key to my black A-series Mercedes to me and even helped me hoist my huge luggage into the trunk. As I sat in the car to cool off (it was 35C that day) with the AC on full blown, I noticed that the car is actually a tiptronic (or “autotronic”). The same gentleman came over to see why I was still in the parking lot and I asked him if this car is on full automatic or set in the autotronic mode. Although his English was decent, I think I lost him when I told him I couldn’t drive manual (which I’m sure is a bizarre concept in Europe as everyone knows how to drive a manual) and I wanted to make sure the car was on full automatic. Then he offered to show me how to drive the car in the tiptronic mode around the parking lot. At this time, I was thinking to myself “no problem, I will just drive the car as an automatic because I’m sure the Mercedes is smart enough to see that I don’t want to shift gears” (right, not very smart in hindsight…you can chuckle now if you like). But luckily I listened to him and retained the most important piece of information that day which was “If you want to accelerate, just step on the gas and shift the gears by tipping right”. Boy, was I glad I remembered this piece of advice!

Off I go after a few practice rounds around the parking lot, inputting my destination of Cordes-sur-Ciel into my GPS (a TomTom which I think is essential, especially when you’re driving around by yourself in the countryside!) and following the driving instructions given to me by the B&B owner of Aurifat (who suggested I don’t take the first turn-off from the airport to avoid going through Toulouse city center). After driving for about 10 minutes, I noticed that the car was quite loud, like loud enough for me to notice the engine over the music blaring on the radio. I’m not completely clueless re: how to drive a manual and noticed that the engine rev was over 3. Hmm…having seen friends drive a manual before, I know that you have to shift gear when it’s over 3. I looked on the dashboard and realize I’ve been driving in first gear since I left the airport! So I started tipping on the tiptronic to get myself into a higher gear. Then the car was smooth sailing. Oh, I realized the car tops out at 120km/h, like the car won’t go any faster no matter how hard I floor the gas – is this because Europcar has “locked” the speed at 120km/h??

I attempted to read the manual in French the next day and quickly gave up on the idea of trying to “fix” the car to make it a full automatic because the last thing I need is a broken-down car in the countryside where I know it’s next to possible to find an automatic replacement if something goes wrong with this one. Why fix something when it ain’t not broken, right? Once I got the hang of driving a tiptronic, I actually really enjoyed the car as I didn’t have to step on the brakes all the time (can just down shift) through the winding hilly roads in Dordogne.

I paid US$1,080 for the automatic (compact 4-door of a Volkswagen or similar) with zero-deductible insurance through Kemwel for a 2-week rental. Not the cheapest but I think it is a decent price given that I wanted an automatic and zero-deductible insurance.

Alright, now that the logistics are laid down…let’s continue with the journey to Cordes…

Day 1 – June 25 – Toulouse to Cordes

The drive from Toulouse to Cordes was about 75 minutes. The first part was the freeway followed by the remaining drive on scenic hilly country roads of the Gaillac wine region. It was a beautiful sunny day and the scenery just took my breath away. I knew I had come to the right place – a couple of weeks of the beautiful country-side, fresh air, quaint villages and delicious food.

As the saying goes, you can’t rely on your GPS 100%. In my defense of the TomTom (a new version, purchased just a couple of months prior), it has been a trusted companion for the Brittany and Loire part of the trip just 8 weeks prior and an absolute essential when driving in the French countryside (especially since I’m on my own for this part of the trip!). But the biggest mistake was made while I tried to find Aurifat, the B&B which will be my home for the next 2 nights, because Aurifat doesn’t have a street address. So I was on google map before flying to Toulouse and decided to input the junctions where Aurifat was. Low and behold, the TomTom took me to a very steep and narrow cobble stone road where I knew I couldn’t go any further. After I turned the car around, it instructed me to drive down this lane to my right which looked more like a tractor trail. I turned on this road and proceeded to drive the next 500m on this VERY narrow road where the other side of the road was a straight plunge into a cemetery and the other side being a ! I was praying that no cars would be coming toward me because I had nowhere to go and I didn’t want to back-up the car on this very narrow road. All I could think about was plunging the car into the cemetery below!

500 meters the car and I emerged unscathed and at the driveway of Aurifat. Ian and Penelope Wanklyn are the proprietors of this beautiful B&B at the bottom of Cordes facing a beautiful valley. I had booked the Pigeonnier room which has its own separate entrance and a big balcony. The Pigeonnier room actually has a connecting room which can be opened and used for a family. My room was spacious and the furnishing was nice. The only down side was that the wifi couldn’t reach my room due to thick stone walls. This proved not to be a problem as I had very much enjoyed sitting in the backyard, which faces the beautiful valley below, to use the wifi (either during breakfasts or while winding down in the evening). It was a great value for 78 euros per night (breakfast included). Aurifat is listed as one of the B&Bs in Karen Brown’s B&B of France. The Wanklyns were very hospitable. Ian even provided a day-trip driving itinerary to visit the small towns around Cordes.

After settling in and making a few skype calls to let friends/family know that I’m alive and well, it was already 6pm. Using the map and a self-written Cordes guide-book that were provided by the Wanklyns, I decided to walk up the steep streets to enter the walled village of Cordes. The walk from the B&B to Cordes was so picturesque – filled with blooming roses and lavenders and quaint houses along the way. This was what I had always imagined seeing in my French countryside vacation. The climb up to Cordes was quite a work-out which was quite welcoming knowing that I’ll be dining on foie gras, ducks and other French delicacies in the days to come.

Upon entering the double walls of Cordes through the arches that were buit in the 1300s (?), I noticed that the town was pretty quiet. I hardly saw another person until I reached the main square where there were a few tourists. I was pretty surprised at how quiet it was. I’m guessing because all the daytrippers have left by now? I wandered over to one end of the square which opens into the vast valley below. The view of the rolling fields was spectacular. The heat was getting to me, even though it was already almost 7pm. I think the temperature was still in the low 30s and there was no wind. I decided to have an early dinner at an outdoor table at the restaurant right next to the panoramic lookout. Coincidentally, the restaurant was called “La Panaromique”. I had my first glass of Gaillac wine and a light salad which was decent but nothing special. I’ve dedicated my travel days to being the days when I eat light to offset all the delicious and heavy foods I’ve consumed during this trip.

After dinner, I took a stroll around Cordes to take photos and to take in the breathtaking view of the valley below. Then I wandered back to the Aurifat and relaxed in the backyard before the sun went down.

I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect start to my 2-week vacation in the Dordogne (although technically I was in the Tarn department for the first couple of days).

I hope this trip report isn’t too long or too detailed or too boring. Your feedback is very welcome. Happy reading :)

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    Enjoying your trip report. You are very brave doing 2 weeks on your own, whilst driving around the beautiful countryside.

    We spent a week in the Dordogne 2 years ago and loved it. Looking forward to more.

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    I'm enjoying your report. I entered Cordes the same way, up on foot, overheated, and had to sit in that square looking out at the view for a while until my body temperature came down to a tolerable level.

    Looking forward to the rest.

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    Piccolina: what Kansas said! Great to see another Dordogne report, and I'm enjoying yours a whole lot.

    You are so brave to be on your own, but it is such a good way to notice everything, which I think you are doing. your detail is super, and your writing very evocative.

    thanks for your kind words about my Dordogne trip, which I must get back to, by the way!

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    Day 2 – June 26 - Driving around Cordes and other quaint villages

    I woke up at 9am with the sunlight flooding into my room through the balcony doors and the large window that overlooks the valley. What a way to wake up! I ate breakfast in the backyard under a big umbrella (the sun was already getting pretty hot even though it was only 9am!) and chatted with the Wanklyns as to what I should do for the day. Ian suggested I follow his driving tour for the day which turned out to be exactly what I needed. After breakfast and using the wifi in the backyard, the sun was proving too hot to stay outdoor. The forecast was calling for 40C weather! So I gathered a 2 bottles of water, some granola bars, candies (Haribo of course!), my Michelin green guide on Dordogne and my BFF (aka the TomTom) and was ready to set off for today’s journey.

    First stop for the day was the St. Antonin Noble Val for its Sunday market. I arrived there past noon and was expecting the market to be finished since I had no problem finding a parking spot. But to my surprise, there were actually still a lot of shoppers (maybe tourists?) in the town square. The market branches off to the smaller alleys to the side of the main square which led to more vendors with their tables on the outskirt of the village. Some vendors (perhaps the popular ones) were closing down since they were nearly out of stock. It was actually a really nice market but the midday sun was making me really tired and lethargic! It also didn’t help that I didn’t have a town map since the tourist office was closed between noon and 2pm.

    I walked the outside of the town trying to find the restaurant recommended in the one-page driving itinerary provided by the Wanklyns. I’m guessing the itinerary hasn’t been updated recently and the name of the restaurant has been changed and it is now called “Auberge Bretagne”. The covered patio was bustling with diners so I settled for a table on the patio as well. I had the set menu consisting of Bayonne ham with white asparagus, a very generous serving of lamb chops and a dessert which I declined because I was already so stuffed!

    After lunch, I quickly walked back to the car under the scorching sun. Let’s just say hot leather car seats and shorts are not a good combination. I decided that it was time to just drive around and enjoy the scenery from inside the car with full AC!

    Following the Wanklyn’s driving itinerary, next destinations were Vielfour and Brousses. The little windy road leads up the side of the Aveyron gorge which offers a view down into the gorge and the surrounding countryside. I didn’t stop in either of these villages – just passed by to take in the scenery and continued on to Penne.

    I found parking in a lot (right in front of the Mairie) about 5 minutes from the small village of Penne. I wanted to come to Penne to see the castle ruins dating back to the 6th century which was built on an overhanging cliff face. From afar, some people say that the castle ruins look like V-sign with the two fingers chopped off. Penne was also quite unique as there are grains embedded on the side of some of the buildings (Does anyone know the meaning behind the embedded grains?). You have to look carefully to find them!

    There was a 5 euro entrance fee to the castle and it looked like it was quite a hike up. But the lady at the ticket booth assured me that it was only a 5 minute walk! I figured I would be ok because I had a huge bottle of water with me. The uphill walk was over loose gravel but I managed alright even in my flip flops. There were metal railings to the side but I assure you that you don’t want to grab on to them on this very hot summer day unless you want to sustain first degree burn to your palms! I believe the castle had been purchased by a very wealthy person who is now in the progress of restoring the castle. I was the only person on top of this cliff that afternoon and it was a bit eerie to be the only person there. The view was magnificent over the valley. I wish I was more of a history buff and would do some proper reading of the castle – I’m sure the castle walls had many stories to tell.

    Next stop was Bruniquel which was named after Brunhilda, the daughter of the King of the Visigoths, who is said to have founded the village in the 7th century! The town has two castles which are both over 700 years old. But this very hot summer day had taken a toll on me and I had no energy to walk up the steep street to the castles. Instead, I found refuge in the flea market outside the village and strolled through the stalls of old books and records. The radio in the car didn’t work well in this area so I was hoping I would find a cd for the car. Low and behold, I found a Renaud cd in one of the stalls! Ahh…there’s nothing like listening to Renaud while driving through the French countryside!

    My final stop for the day would be Puycelsi, which is a fortified village with the external walls being completely square. Just to the side of the parking lot, there’s a map of the village with a self-guided walk in a clock-wise fashion. The view from Puycelsi is also very nice as the view expands into the valley below. I only walked one side of the village walls where there was a small stone church before returning to the car. I’m sure the walk around Puycelsi would have been very enjoyable on a slightly cooler day :)

    Then it was time to drive back to Cordes which was followed by a light dinner of fruits and a glass of wine as I take in the view of the sun setting in the Cordes valley. This was my last night in Cordes and I realized that I needed to make a separate trip back to this beautiful area pronto. I would love to see the Gorges du Tarn on my next trip to this area…

    PS: The Wanklyns told me that the thermometer hit 42C that day!

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    Thank you everyone for your kind words and reading my report!

    This was my first ever solo trip if you exclude business trips and the 4 days I spent in Paris on my own some 7 weeks prior to this Dordogne trip. I won't lie and say I wasn't apprehensive about it but I think most of my anxiety has to do with the rental car (haha). On several occasions, I did wish I had company but mostly I just really enjoyed my own company. There's nothing like listening to the same song on repeat in the car and not having someone to tell you to change songs!

    BTW, can someone tell me how to bold the font in the report? Merci beaucoup!

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    To bold the font use before and after the text in question.

    In case it comes up again... when entering a place with no proper address use latitude and longitude. Rural B and Bs will often have this on their websites. Or check using Google Earth.

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    Day 3 – June 27 – Albi and Driving to Rocamadour


    I woke up to another day of gorgeous blue skies in Cordes. After breakfast in the backyard, I quickly packed up my stuff so that the Wanklyns can clean the room for their guests arriving later that day I was planning to go to Albi for a few hours, then come back to pick up my luggages (didn’t want to leave the luggages in the car for theft and temperature reasons – not sure how well my laptop will fare being trapped in the heat in the car trunk!) and then drive on to Rocamadour which would be my home for the next two nights. It wasn’t a detour to come back to Cordes to pick up the luggages because I would have had to drive through Cordes to get from Albi to Rocamadour anyway.

    Albi was about a 30 minute drive away. If my memory serves me correctly, the roads were mostly two lanes with a gradual decline into Albi. Again, it was a very scenic drive (is it possible to have a not very scenic drive in this part of France?!). Thanks for the Wanklyn, I easily found the underground parking lot. Being that it was a Monday morning, I expected most shops would be closed (Thanks Stu for the heads up!). However, that didn’t matter because I came here to see the Cathedral and the Toulouse-Lautrec museum. I also really enjoyed a city/town when it is more quiet

    Before finding my way to the tourist office, I stopped by a local café/bar to have a noisette (an espresso with a dash of cream). It was quite the local experience as I was surrounded by locals having their daily chats (there was only one group of them sitting around the bar and I presume they were all friends). The proprietor behind the counter and I tried to have a conversation about where I was from and etc. Too bad my French isn’t good enough to have a proper dialogue! I really should pick up French again one of these days.

    As I approached the tourism office which was next to the Toulouse-Lautrec museum, I saw a couple of gentlemen making a video outside the tourism office. I was the only one entering the tourism office and I felt like the video camera was suddenly on me! After I got a map of Albi and was exiting the tourism office, the cameraman and his partner were entering the tourism office and said to me in English “Great shot! You looked really good in our video.” It turned out they were filming an official tourism video for Albi. So if you ever get the chance to see the tourism office video for Albi, you might see me in it! (By the way, this was my second time in a tourism video during this trip. The first time was in Chateau d’Usse in the Loire valley where my partner, myself and another couple were all featured in a scene in the attic with an actress dressed as a princess. So you might also see me in the Chateau d’Usse promotional video!)

    I walked around the outside of the Cathedral which was very large and different from other cathedrals (in terms of color, architecture). According to wiki, the Albi Cathedral is “formally the Cathedral of Saint Cecilia…and the seat of the Archbishop of Albi. First built as a fortress begun in 1287 and under construction for 200 years, it is claimed to be the largest brick building in the world. In 2010 the cathedral was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site”.

    The inside of the Cathedral was equally impressive. I highly recommend paying the 3 euros to see the choir and the back of the Cathedral. After finishing with the Cathedral, it was nearly lunch time. There were a few restaurants across the Cathedral with outdoor seatings. I sat down in one of these restaurants and had the 3-course menu consisting of a duck gizzard salad, duck confit and ice cream for approximately 20 euros. The view of the Cathedral from my seat was quite magnificent.

    After lunch, I walked around Albi and noted that the shops were beginning to open. Many shops had a sale and I did some shopping since the Toulouse-Lautrec museum was closed until 1:30 or so. After shopping, I did a tour of Toulouse-Lautrec museum which I very much enjoyed. Today wasn’t as hot as the previous day but the afternoon sun was intense nonetheless. Time to head back to Cordes to pick up my luggages!

    After a brief stop in Aurifat to bid farewell to the Wanklyns, I was off on the two hour scenic drive to Rocamadour. It was an easy drive through mostly winding one-lane country roads while passing through forests, pasteurs and quaint little villages. It was still 39C at 6pm according to the thermometer on the dashboard!

    I arrived at Domaine de la Rhue in Rocamadour and checked into my standard room (125 euros per night excluding breakfast. Breakfast was 8 euros per person). I noticed that there were a lot of big black flies around Domaine de la Rhue (outside, not inside the B&B). Christine said that this happens every year at this time. They were literally all over the place! I’m sure it was very comicable for the handy man at Domaine to see me dash from my car to the back door where most of the flies were congregating. Domaine has just installed portable ACs in each room which was very much needed on this very hot day! Aside from the black flies, I thoroughly enjoyed my room which was very clean and has a view of the backyard.

    I was pretty tired from a long day so I just had a light dinner of baguette, Rocamadour chevre and fruits in the room. I stayed in for the evening, did some laundry by hand and caught up on some of my favorite American television shows.

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    Day 4 – June 28 – Stopping the Car to let the Chickens cross the road!

    After breakfast at Domaine de la Rhue, I was ready for a morning of sightseeing at Rocamadour. I was a bit apprehensive about the crowds at Rocamadour being that it’s one of the most visited sites in France but the crowds weren’t so bad (aside from a few groups of screaming school children at the sanctuaries but it wasn’t too bad).

    There is a walking path from Domaine de la Rhue that leads you to Rocamadour (or maybe it was to L’hospitalet?) but today was too hot to take on this path and I didn’t want to walk the path alone (I’m sure nothing would have happened to me had I walked the path alone but you can’t be too careful when traveling alone). I made a mental note to myself that I should walk this path if I come back to Rocamadour one day with company.

    I drove to L’hospitalet to take in the view of Rocamadour. After a few photo opportunities, I parked the car in the lot next to the elevator that takes you down to Rocamadour.

    Standing inside Chapelle Notre Dame (where the black Madonna stands), I was in awe of the history surrounding this place. Pilgrims who have been coming here for over 1,000 years! After visiting the basilica Saint Sauveur and the Saint-Michel chapel, I descended on the Grand Escalier (216 steps which were once climbed by pilgrims on their knees) to arrive at the Rocamadour village. I was underwhelmed with the one-street village as it was very touristy. It was lined with tourist-filled restaurants and tourist shops. As my hunger was kicking in, I ended up eating in one of these tourist-filled restaurants (gasp!). I had a salad of duck confit (yes more duck!) topped with a rocamadour chevre. I sat outside under a shaded patio but there were black flies everywhere. I’m pretty sure I (and other diners) spent most of my (their) meal defending my food from the swarming black flies! I’m not sure why there are so many black flies in Rocamadour? Has anyone else experienced this? I didn’t see black flies anywhere else in my 2-week stay in the area.

    After lunch, I ascended up the Grand Escalier and took the elevator back up to the parking lot. As I drove out of L’hospitalet, I pulled over at a vantage point to try to capture Rocamadour in the afternoon sun but it was just not the right lighting (I think Stu has said the morning sun is the best time to capture Rocamadour from L’hospitalet). Then I looked up in the skies and saw a pair of bald eagles soaring in the midday sun. It was quite a sight.

    After gassing up the car at the gas station in L’hospitalet, I drove back to Domaine de la Rhue for a much needed shower and a change of clothes. Then I was off for an afternoon drive around the quaint villages of Autoire, Loubressac, St. Cere, Beaulieu sur Dordogne and Carennac. I stopped in Autoire, Loubressac and Carennac but only drove through St. Cere and Beaulieu sur Dordogne. Here are my impressions of these villages/towns:

    Autoire
    Loved, loved, LOVED this little village which is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France. I have a picture of this house that looked like it was straight out of the fairy tales. The village was empty except for another 1-2 cars of tourists. I would place this as one of my all-time favourite villages in France.

    Loubressac
    On the drive from Autoire to Loubressac on a rural route, I had to stop the car to let a chicken and a rooster cross the road. Being a city girl, this is rare sight to be had! I was grinning from ear to ear after seeing this and thinking to myself that I was really on the French country vacation that I had always dreamed of!

    Loubressac (also listed as one of the most beautiful villages in Franec) is perched high on a mountain with a gorgeous vantage point where there is a bench you can sit down to absorb the view. Unfortunately the bench was already fully occupied by other tourists (there were only a few other tourists there). The village is quaint with a shady town square holding a few picnic tables. I had a very enjoyable break of sitting on one of these picnic tables while eating chips and drinking an oragina. A gentle breeze was blowing through the trees and I was thinking to myself that I was so lucky to be able to experience a 3-month break from work to enjoy the summer in Europe. It was just one of those moments where I felt very grateful and realized how fortunate and blessed I am to be doing the very thing I was doing at that exact moment. It’s hard to describe in words but I think you get what I’m trying to say.

    St. Cere
    Drove through one of the main streets of St. Cere and noted that it was more of a town than a village as it had many shops lining the streets. I didn’t feel like stopping here (but would end up returning the next day for lunch) and continued on to Beaulieu sur Dordogne.

    Beaulieu sur Dordogne
    I didn’t stop here either except to pull into a parking lot to input Carennec into the GPS. I remember reading either on here or in the Michelin Green Guide that Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne is well worth a stop but I just wasn’t in the mood to get out of my car to have a wander here. Ahh..the joy the travelling alone and not having to answer to anyone but yourself :)

    Carennac
    Carennac (also listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France) is ranked up there with Autoire in my books. By the time I arrived in Carennac, it was almost 6pm and the clouds have rolled in. Carennac is situated next to the banks of the Dordogne river and I got my first proper view of the Dordogne river here.

    I took a walk around the deserted town and ran into a few groups of tourists. Carennac had its collection of half-timbered houses (some were very lobsided!) and other quaint village houses. There were a few restaurants lining the “main street”. One of the restaurants was serving tapas which I wasn’t in the mood for since I was in Spain for the previous 3 weeks. The restaurant that was furthest away from the village was called Hostelerie Fenelon which was a B&B and a restaurant with a Michelin-recommended sticker. I was so happy to finally see a reputable restaurant (at least according to Michelin) after eating several meals of mediocre food at touristy restaurants. I walked in at 6:50pm only to find the proprietor’s family eating dinner inside the restaurant and the nice gentleman asked me to come back in 10 minutes.

    I wandered around village for another 15 minutes and returned to the restaurant at precisely 7:05pm. Judging from the look on the proprietor’s face, I think he was either surprised at my punctuality or was wondering why anyone on earth would want to eat dinner at 7pm. I was seated at a window that opens to a view of the Dordogne river below. I wasn’t too hungry so it was unfortunate that I couldn’t stomach the 3-course menu. I ordered a cepes omelette being that I have yet to try the cepes and a side order of steamed vegetables. The omelette was delicious (but very filling! I needed to order a mint tea at Domaine later that evening) and the steamed vegetables were beautifully presented. I was very happy with this dinner! Miam miam!

    Then it was a 30 minute drive back to Domaine de la Rhue for my last night there!

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    Thank you for reading my trip report and your kind words =) I'm in the middle of setting up a photo account so that I can load some photos to accompany this trip report. Please stay tuned!

    Paris_Amsterdam - I'm loving the bold headings too! Thank you

    AGM_Cape_Code - I'm very happy to hear that you can leverage the informaion from my trip report for your upcoming travels to Dordogne. I'm delighted to be able to "return the favor" to other fodorites. Happy planning! (Oh, and I work for a bank and this 3-month off is a break between jobs)

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    Piccolina: I am so enjoying your report. We were at a lot of the places you talked about in this last entry, and stayed at Domaine de la Rhue.

    Loved Autoire, it was so charming, and the approach from the south (I think) was staggering!! Nobody there but a group of French tourists who were in a small enclosure near the one hotel/restaurant, eating lunch.

    Your trip sounds wonderful. Thanks for telling us about it.

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    The first time we were in the Dordogne (just around the time we were deciding to live here - it didn't take very long)we stopped in Carennac after seeing Rocamadour, Padirac, and probably Autoire, also one of our favourite villages. Then we came to Carennac. Shall we stop here said my husband. Oh, it's late, let's just go home - well, why not stop for a little while.

    Well, it's one of my favourite memories, being in Carennac, a stunning village, with wonderful roofs, great tower, and amazing cloisters - particularly at sunset. Highly recommended.

    As is At Home in France by Ann Barry, who had a house in Carennac. Usually I dont much like all the 'I moved to France books' that have come out. But hers is quite special.

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    Carlux - I agree with the cloisters in Carennac at sunset. Thanks for the book recommendation. I'll check it out!

    Btw, do you live in Carlux now (sorry if tha's a rhetorical question)? I passed by your village/town several times leaving Sarlat to various destinations (the GPS always takes me on the smaller country route when leaving Sarlat! But the GPS always leads me on the main road (D703?) when coming back into Sarlat).

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    Yes, I do indeed live in Carlux - although right now we're in not so sunny Cape Town. When I go into Sarlat I always take the road through Ste Nathalene. I think it's the D47. Much nicer than coming in from the south, especially if you dont need to go to that end of town.

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    Day 5 – June 29 – Gouffre de Padirac, Chateau de Montal and Driving to Sarlat (Part I)

    I woke up to dark gloomy skies with rain in the forecast. Although another sunny day would have been preferred, I was glad the temperature will finally cool down after the storm. After breakfast and packing up my luggage to be stored at Domaine to be picked up later that day, I headed to Gouffre de Padirac following Christine’s (proprietor of Domaine) advice to be at the Gouffre as soon as it opens at 9:30 to avoid the long queues.

    I arrived at the Gouffre around 930 and there were already a few other cars in the parking lot. There was no line at the ticket office and I was soon descending into what felt like a subterranean world. It was pretty amazing to be standing at the bottom of the chasm and looking up at the giant gaping hole towards the sky. As you’re going inside a cave that is underground, it is cold inside so be prepared to wear a jacket (I wore a trench coat and pants that day) and make sure you have shoes with proper grip (ie: no flip flops!) . Unfortunately the tour was in French (I don’t think English tours were available or at least none was offered to me!) as you have a guide for the boat trip and the same guide stays with you for the entire visit (ie: you cannot wander off on your own). Although I was lost in translation, it didn’t distract me from enjoying the caves. I figured if I wanted to know about the caves, I can always read up on it on the internet afterwards.

    In case you’re interested, here’s the link to the official Gouffre de Padirac which I thought was done very well to promote the cave. I wasn’t sure about going to the cave at first but I was sold after seeing the website the day before! I highly recommend coming here if you’re staying in Rocamadour.

    http://www.gouffre-de-padirac.com/

    I exited the cave in about 90 minutes. Sure enough, there was a long line outside the ticket office. I would say the wait would have been at least 30 minutes. I was glad I wasn’t going to be standing in line in the rain!

    Knowing that I still had a few hours to kill before needing to head back to Domaine to pick up my bags and head to Sarlat, I decided to drive to St. Cere (where I drove through the day before) to have a look around. It was a bit difficult to find parking at first so I had to circle around the block a few times before finding a spot in one of the lots near the tourism office. After getting a map, which comes with its own self-guided walking tour, from the tourism office, I set off to find the Hotel de France restaurant for lunch. As I’m writing this trip report, I referred back to the Michelin Green Guide to check if the Hotel de France was mentioned in there and it is not. Hmm..I wonder who or what recommended Hotel de France? Anyway, the Hotel de France is a hotel (obviously) with a restaurant that is Michelin recommended. The hotel was a normal looking 3-star motel type accommodation so I checked the menu posted outside to make sure the menu was indeed appetizing because I really wanted some good food!

    The dining room was empty when I entered and the décor was a bit dated (think pink carpet and leather-trimmed chairs upholstered in the same shade of pink as the carpet). I ordered the menu for 25 euros with an added 5 euros supplement (totaling 30 euros) since I chose the foie gras for the appetizer which comes with a small glass of sauterne. For the plat, I had themMargret de canard served with these chewy pancakes (delish!) and a tart berry sauce. For dessert, I opted for (of course) the Rocamadour chevre served with a side of salad. The food was fresh and of high quality. I thought the meal was a steal at 30 euros!

    To be continued tomorrow...

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    Kansas, thanks for your kind words. Oui, le histoire de chateau de montal est tres triste. :(

    How did you like the Dordogne in September? What time did the sun set? Just doing some thinking for my next trip to France and am debating if May/June or September is a better month (I avoid traveling in July/Augst due to the crowds, high fares etc).

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    The weather was fabulous. Most days were sunny and quite warm, just on the verge of hot! There were no crowds to speak of, and I absolutely want to go back! A new trip is forming in my mind already. We missed many of the things you have mentioned: Albi, Autoire, St. Antonin Noble Val, Gouffre de Padirac to name a few...

    I do not remember what time the sun set...we were in the area from September 4th to the 15th, then Paris till the 19th. I believe it certainly was still light out around 8:30 p.m. or later.

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    Kansas - I really enjoyed your trip report btw. Thanks for sharing. I also used your queston from April 2011 to help plan my dordogne trip =)

    Good to hear te sun was up until 830 or so...hmm maybe September sounds like a wonderful time to be in this part of France.

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    Day 5 – June 29 – Gouffre de Padirac, Chateau de Montal and Driving to Sarlat (Part II)

    After a very satisfying meal at Hotel de France, I needed to burn off all the calories I had consumed so I did the self-guided walk in the tourism office map around St. Cere’s old town. There were some old half-timbered houses and other old character houses lining the streets. The walk was interesting but I much preferred walking around Autoire and Loubressac.

    After the St. Cere walking tour, it was 2pm and I didn’t want to get back to Domaine until 3:30pm for what I thought would be an easy drive to Sarlat (I stupidly thought the drive to Sarlat was only 45 mins from Domaine de la Rhue – more on this later). So I decided to check out Chateau de Montal which was situated just a couple of kilometers outside of St. Cere.

    There were numerous rooms inside the Chateau. The furnishings were old and unrestored which I actually liked because it added to the character of the chateau. The chateau features a double spiral staircase which is said to be the most beautiful in France. The chateau was built by Jeanne de Balsac between 1523 and 1534, for her son who had gone to war; her desperate motto "plus d'espoir" (no more hope) which is carved above the door into the castle, suggests that he never came back.

    I then headed back to Domaine to pick up my luggage and was en route to go to Sarlat. Now, this is where the confusion sets in. Google map shows the drive to Sarlat was 1 hour (just checked on gogole maps again) but my trusted GPS was showing the drive to be 1hr 30mins! At first I didn’t notice the driving time discrepancy between google maps and the GPS. I only noticed something was up when the GPS wanted to take me down this rural looking road that didn’t seem quite right. So I turned the car around and the GPS usually recalculates a new route if it sees that you’re heading into a different direction. But to no avail this time! It just kept telling me to turn around.

    To make a long story short, I ended up listening to the GPS (I actually didn’t have a map with me for the entire trip which worked out fine except for this incident and another GPS incident for Sarlat which I will go into more details later. The GPS was invaluable otherwise). To this day, I’m not sure if I had taken the “right” route from Rocamadour to Sarlat. I guess I will have to find out the next time I’m there.

    I was looking forward to this drive from Rocamadour to Sarlat but it ended up being the worst drive of the entire trip! I couldn’t wait to get to Sarlat and get off the windy roads which felt like they were never ending. Now this is something that is quite unusual for me because I love driving normally. I don’t know what it was – maybe it was the overcast skies coupled with the disobedient GPS?

    Needless to say, I was not in a good mood when I arrived in Sarlat. I was staying at a B&B called La Lanterne on Rue de Montaigne. The Bowens (B&B proprietors who are English) had given me the heads up that parking is not available directly outside the B&B since they are located inside the old town but parking was available some 30 feet away in a lot. I found parking right by Rue de Montaigne without fail (thanks to the GPS who is now behaving properly) and decided to walk to the B&B first without my luggage.

    When I entered the B&B other guests were sitting in the enclosed front yard having drinks and chatting happily. Roy (the husband) showed me to my room (85 euros per night excluding breakfast. Breakfast was 8 euros per person which can be ordered the night before) which was located up an individual staircase by the dining room area. The room was nicely decorated with a very high attic ceiling. The windows face the rocket-shaped lanterne des morts (translated to death lantern!) located behind the Cathedral. The bathroom was incredibly small with hardly any counter space except for a glass shelf above the loo and wash basin. The wash basin was one of those triangular corner ones and was so tiny – so tiny that I couldn’t do any hand washing in there which was annoying but I managed to hold off on the washing until my next destination.

    My apologies if it sounds like I’m doing a lot of complaining about this B&B. In all fairness, the room was very clean and Terri (the wife) was a gracious host. Unfortunately I can’t say the same for her husband Roy and Terri’s mother who both made numerous sly and unwelcome remarks throughout my stay which I won’t go into details here.

    My final verdict of La Lanterne: If you want to stay in the medieval part of Sarlat, then this is where you want to be because there are restaurants/sights within 2 mins from the B&B. I was told by Roy that other B&Bs are located at least 1km outside Sarlat on steep streets (not sure if this is true?) Rooms are nice but no wifi could get through the thick walls. But don’t expect top notch hospitality from Roy or Terri’s mother (I felt like I was being scolded by my grandmother in one of the “incidents” with Terri’s mother. Now that’s no way to make a guest feel.). Terri is lovely although she’s not around all the time (they seem to split their B&B duties 50/50). I’m neutral on whether I would recommend La Lanterne to others but I would unlikely return for another stay (partly because I wouldn’t stay in Sarlat again on my next trip to Dordogne).

    Alright, back to the day in Sarlat….

    It was already after 7pm after moving my luggage from the car to my room and doing some unpacking. I then set out to check out the town of Sarlat but really wasn’t in the mood for sightseeing. Still full from the very delicious lunch in St. Cere, I just ordered a take-out pizza from a pizzeria and ate it in the enclosed courtyard at the B&B with a cold beer. By the way, it’s funny how they don’t cut the pizza into slices here in France…

    I had an early night and was excited to see my longtime friend H to join me in Sarlat for the next 4 days!

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    Well, I think the owner of La Lanterne was bending the truth a little. There is at least one other B&B in central Sarlat, Les Cordonniers, plus of course lots of hotels. Since Sarlat itself is in a valley surrounded by hills, there are others which are not within walking distance - but which escape the crowds and noise that guests at La Lanterne would experience in July/August.

    I can imagine the rooms must be small - we looked at this house some years ago, and several owners ago, and I dont remember any spacious bedrooms. It sounds like you may have been in what what once the library, separate from the other rooms, but tiny.

    Also, I live in an 18th century house with thick walls, and Wifi works fine. I dont see this as an acceptable excuse.

    I was going to give you my opinion on the various sly and unwelcome comments, but it's probably better that I keep my mouth shut. Suffice to say that I sympathize, and am not completely surprised.

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    You may remember from my TR that we stayed at Les Cordeliers in Sarlat. It is only a very short walk to the medieval city center. We loved everything about it. It is too bad about your experience. I would definitely stay in Sarlat next time, thanks to the welcome we received at our B and B.

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    Let's just say I think the owners of La Lanterne think they are the hottest thing in town...they have a bit of the "take it or leave it" attitude which I think is unacceptable if you are in the hospitality industry.

    have you met the bowens (owners of la lanterne) before? the world is a small place...

    yeah, don't even get me started on the sly comments...some of those comments were offensive actually. i wish i had something cheeky to say back but i was so caught off guard with those comments!

    suffice to say, i will not stay there again for reasons mentioned above...

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    Piccolina: I dedicate my first ever trip report to Dordogne as I think it’s probably the highlight of my 3-month vacation.

    For a first-timer, I'd say you're doing really well. :-)

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    Day 6 – June 30 - Chilling in Sarlat

    The clouds have lifted from the skies and so did my bad mood when I woke up the next morning to another beautiful sunny day in the Dordogne. Today turned out to be the most relaxing day I’ve had since being away from home for 2 months.

    I made coffee from the Bowen’s Nespresso machine and sat out in the shaded courtyard to use the wifi (since wifi wasn’t accessible in my room!). During such a long holiday, it’s great to just sit back and do nothing. It was nice to take a break from sightseeing! I was also in no particular rush to see Sarlat since I would be here for another 4 nights!

    At around noon, I strolled down to the cathedral to see what the restaurants were offering for lunch. Chez la Gaulois looked particularly appetizing and not too touristy (it was bustling with patrons the night before and their charcuterie platter looked amazing) so I ate down at one of their outdoor tables. I ordered a platter that comes with an individual fondue (which was DIVINE!), potatoes, cold cuts and salad which was washed down with a glass of red Bergerac. My table was perfect for people watching and soon the outdoor tables were filled with other diners. The heaviness of the potatoes and the fondue soon put me into a food coma and I walked back to La Lanterne for an afternoon of napping and being lazy in general. This is what being on vacation is all about right?!

    I didn’t emerge from my room until it was time to pick up H, who was scheduled to arrive around 6:30pm, in the Souillac train station from Paris.

    After picking up H from Souillac and driving back to Sarlat, we hurried back to Chez le Gaulois (I made a reservations for that evening during lunch!) because H was on the verge of passing out from hunger. We had a wonderful meal of potatoes and fondue (I couldn’t resist ordering it again!), assorted charcuterie and more Bergerac wine. By the time we’re finished at the restaurant, the sun has already set. We took a walk around Sarlat which was very atmospheric at dusk.

    I couldn’t have asked for a better evening of catching up with an old friend over great food and wine under the atmospheric evening light of Sarlat!

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    I think you win Rookie of the Year award if this is really your first trip report Piccolina. There have been some good recent trip reports about the Dordogne and yours is certainly among them. Not just because of the great places you saw but the way you write about your experiences. I assume you were keeping a diary because the day by day details are great. I haven't spent enough time in the Dordogne so thanks for giving me some ideas. I have a bunch of places on my list but you've given me some new ones. Waiting for more adventures.

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    I'm really enjoying your report, your style and your experiences too.

    All the more so because I was in the same area last July too (see my own trip report for details) and if I'm not mistaken, we have a personal connection so I'm particularly looking forward to your take on your next destination :-)

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    TDudette - thank you for reading! please stay tuned for more

    FMT - Your words are too kind. Yes, I also experienced these "ghost" towns but I guess I was expecting more people in yours because of your closer proximity to Paris (I don't know why I thought that!) Hope you make it to Dordogne some time soon. I think you and Mrs will really love it there.

    Eigasuki - thanks for reading! I'll read yours too. Isn't great to read a trip report that reminds you of your own travels? BTW, when you say "we have a personal connection", do you mean we know each other from somewhere?

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    Eigasuki - OMG! Are you who I think you are??!! I just went to your trip report and upon seeing the title "Tour de France", I thought to myself "umm..could it be...". Then I scrolled down to the St. Cyprien part....and I couldn't believe it!

    This is so amazing to "reconnect" on this forum when we actually met in person some 5000 miles away from home!

    How have you been? How was the rest of your trip?

    BTW, I often think about the mousse de chocolat from Miranda...

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    Indeed, it is I!

    My trip was amazing, so much just fell into place and now that the driving stresses are history, all the more amazing. Pretty exhausting and back to work was exhausting too so of course eventually I succumbed to the all the viruses going around and that's taken a while to shake off. Now back to researching for my next trip.

    Bring on the St Cyprien adventures.

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    Here are some photos taken from Day 1-3 of the trip while I was based in Cordes. Photos include Cordes, Penne, Bruniquel,Puycelsi and Albi. Enjoy!

    http://s1182.photobucket.com/albums/x459/Piccolinaabroad/France/Tarn_June_2011/

    Next up in the trip report: Domme, Beynac and canoeing down the Dordogne...

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    Day 7 – July 1 – Domme, Roque Gageac and Beynac

    We woke up to another gorgeous summer day in Sarlat and had an easy morning. H went for a run around Sarlat while I bummed around the B&B. We didn’t take the breakfast option for an additional 8 euros per person (what kind of B&B charges extra for breakfast?!) as we had plans to have a good lunch at La Gabarre in St. Julien de Lampon.

    Around 11:30, we set out to St. Juilen de Lampon. Instead of taking us on the main road out of Sarlat, the GPS took us through Ste Nathalene which was a windy and narrow route albeit a very scenic one. We couldn’t find the restaurant once we go to St. Julien de Lampon but stopped at a RV park to ask for directions (luckily the man at the office spoke fluent English!). Soon enough we were at La Gabarre which overlooks the Dordogne river from a vantage point. We didn’t have a reservation so we weren’t able to take one of the tables at the edge of the covered patio. Oh well!

    The menu at La Gabarre was a welcoming change from the margret de canard, confit de canard and foie gras that I’ve been eating for the past week. There were a few menus of different prices where you can choose from with various appetizers and mains but you can also mix and match as you please and the proprietor will put together a price for you. H had a salmon for the main while I had lamb. I was delighted to see rice pudding as a choice for dessert – miam miam! I was very impressed with the meal. This meal was up there with the Michelin-rated meals at Hotel du France (St. Cere) and Hostellerie Fenelon (Carennac).

    After lunch, we drove to Domme (another most beautiful villages in France) and did a walk around this bastide town. Unfortunately the main street leading from the parking lot to the church was lined with tourist shops selling foie gras and other Dordogne specialties which took away from the authenticity of the village. Nonetheless, the view over the valley and the Dordogne review was spectacular. It was in Domme that I took a photo of what I think is the epitome of a French country vacation. Will post photos soon.

    Roque Gageac (another most beautiful villages in France) was next on the itinerary. We parked next to the Dordogne river to take in the view but didn’t wander up to the what-appeared-to-be-steep streets (the heat was too much!). The troglodyte fort on the cliff face was fascinating, even if it was just being viewed by the river. I wish we had more energy that day because I regret not doing a proper walkabout of Roque Gageac!

    Next up is Beynac (another most beautiful villages in France). We parked by the river and walked up the picturesque village of Beynac to reach the castle. The village was too quaint to be true!! I think I took a photo of almost every house lining the street leading up to the castle. Yes, I’m a camera-happy person.

    We walked to the side of the castle that offers the view of the Dordogne valley. We were quite exhausted from our day’s outing at this point and decided not to go inside the castle because I was frankly “castled-out” from my Loire valley trip a couple months ago. Something to do for the next time when I’m back in the Dordogne.

    Then it was a quick drive back to our B&B in Sarlat for some R&R before dinner at Le Presidial at evening. After a much needed shower and a change of clothes, we opened the bottle of Gaillac wine that I bought in Cordes and enjoyed an aperitif before dinner.

    We had reservations at 7:30pm at Le Presidial which was just around the corner from our B&B. I think most guests were sitting outside in the large garden area (can’t imagine anyone wanting to dine indoor on such a gorgeous summer evening!). Reservations are essential here! I was too full from all the eating so I ordered just a main of prawns (which was unfortunately wayyyyyy too salty). H had the 3 course menu of smoked salmon, margret de canard and a dessert. We also opened a half bottle of Pecharment as we wanted to try as many local wines as possible. It was a delightful dinner aside from my mishap with the prawns but I was too full to care. The atmosphere of Le Presidial made for a very pleasant evening! I think H said that the dinner at Le Presidial was one of the highlights of his long weekend in the Dordogne

    After dinner, other guests at La Lanterne, including ourselves, sat in the court yard, had drinks (someone brought out the whiskey!) and chatted. We retired to our rooms around midnight. It was a good way to end a pretty perfect day in the Dordogne.

    Next up: Kayaking down the Dordogne was no easy feat!!

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    Glad you liked La Gabarre, one of our favourites. It's lucky that you were able to get in without a reservation. For others who might want to try it, I should point out that sometimes even when there are tables free they wont take people who haven't reserved. Often it is just Ludovic and Valentine, and they can only manage a certain number.

    Also, the D47 is in fact the best way to get there from Sarlat, not that I often agree with a GPS. IF you followed it, you would have arrived in Carlux from the west, and got a great view of our château (under much renovation)

    I'm also amazed that you could handle another meal after lunch at La Gabarre, especially at the Presidial,where meals tend to be heavy. I usually give up and have a yogurt for dinner after lunch out.

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    Unfortunately the main street leading from the parking lot to the church was lined with tourist shops selling foie gras and other Dordogne specialties which took away from the authenticity of the village.

    But that is the natural development of a village once it aims to be designated as a plus beau village. The village no longer functions as the center of the surrounding agricultural community, or what is left of it; in fact, it would be difficult to find a cow patty in any of these villages, whereas 40 years ago cows regularly went through a village in the morning and the evening, leaving proof of their passage on the ground. Even without the tourist shops the village would have lost its authentic nature which disappeared with its original function. In that regard, the designation as a plus beau village is a double-edged sword--it gives the village a new economic impetus with tourism but sets it in amber.

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    Carlux - Oh trust me, I was stuffed from la Gabarre and was only able to eat half of my prawn dish! (no appy or dessert for me!)

    Michel - I know what you mean about the double edged sword for the village being labeled as a plus beau village. Domme was just more touristy than expected. Beynac, Autoire, Carennac arent as touristy/commercial-like which was more to my liking. I wonder how the local inhabitants feel about the change to their village?

    Kiddo - Thanks for reading my trip report. Hope you're able to find some useful information to plan your trip!

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    I meant to say canoeing instead of kayaking in my last entry. I'm nowhere athetletic enough to do a 9km kayak trip down the Dordogne! :p

    Day 8 – July 2 – The much awaited canoe trip down the Dordogne…

    Canoeing down the Dordogne was on the top of my “must-do” list for this trip and we decided today was the day. Today being Saturday so it is also the day of the Sarlat Saturday market which I was really looking forward to. We headed down to the cathedral at around 10:30 and the market was already bustling with vendors and people. We cut through Rue de la Boetie to connect to Rue de la Republique which was unfortunately when I became disappointed with the market. The vendors lining rue de la Republique were most selling items made from China. They clearly did not look like France-made products! You know what I’m talking about – cheap trinkets, “African” drums, mass-produced weaved baskets, you get the picture. Not to mention the market was also crowded with tourists! I highly doubt if there were actual locals shopping there. Maybe my expectations for the Sarlat market were too high given how much I’ve read about it in guidebooks and other sources.

    We sat down for a quick breakfast of croissants and coffee at the local patisserie on rue de la Republique as we watched the hoards of tourists bypass us. This was certainly not the market experience I was expecting!

    We walked down the length of rue de la Republique and turned back into the main square which had mostly food vendors. Now this was more like the French market I was hoping for but it was still too touristy for my liking. We bought some picnic provisions including tapenade, artichoke dip (which was amazing), cheese, baguettes and strawberries. I have a new-found obsession with French strawberries since my first taste of them in Brittany. I went through several fruit vendors in the Salart market before finding the “right” kind that resembled the Gariguette variety which I had in Brittany. These strawberries are what all strawberries should taste like. There are no words to describe them!! If you’ve had Gariguettes, you would know what I mean! If you haven’t had Gariguettes before, I strong recommend you seek them out next time. The basket that I bought tasted exactly like Gariguettes although it didn’t say so on the sign at the vendor.

    We didn’t buy any saucission secs from the vendors because we didn’t want to buy anything that’s been sitting in the back of a van that’s been traveling from markets to markets (this was on the advice of the Bowens from the B&B). We were told we were better off buying our meats from the local butcher instead. We ended up buying some jambon blanc and a piece of saucisson secs from the butcher on rue de Fenelon. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for some jamon bellota de iberica right about now….(I was in Spain the previous 3 weeks and couldn’t get enough of jamon bellota).

    Terri (from the B&B) was very considerate and offered us a cooler to place our picnic goodies on this very hot day. Then we were off we went to Canoe Vacanes, which is located just 1km outside Roque Gageac, to rent our canoes.

    Our stomachs were starting to rumble as we pulled into the shaded parking lot of Canoe Vacanes. So we decided to have a little tail-gate picnic by popping open the trunk of the hatchback. After fueling up with much-needed energy, we paid Canoe Vacanes 12 euros each for the 9km trek down the Dordogne. They had pick-ups at the “end” every hour and we allotted ourselves 3 hours for the trip as we wanted to have a picnic en route (they said a 9km trip takes 2 hours on average). We were scheduled to be picked up at 4:45pm.

    So off we went on our own to the river bed to select our canoe. After some minor glitches to get the canoe off the river bed, we were paddling down the beautiful Dordogne river. Let me tell you – working the paddle was quite a work out! The river was not deep at this time of the year and the water flow was not particular fast so we weren’t going down the river quickly. We were told we would pass 3 bridges along the way and our “end” point was right after the 3rd bridge. Although we passed by much of the same route as we can been in the car the day before (eg: Roque Gageac, Beynac), the view from the river was so different! We oohed and ahhed on almost every turn.

    We pulled over at a rocky patch about half way down our trek. We sat on our life jackets as seat cushions and ate the picnic provisions under the shades while we looked out to the peaceful Dordogne river occasionally dotted by passing canoes. There was also a chateau (one of the many chateaux we saw as we canoed down the river) perched up in the mountain. Ahh…life was good on this perfect summer day.

    We were late by about 15 minutes at arriving at the meeting spot which was just past the Les Jardins des Milandes. Our arms and bums were aching by now and were glad we didn’t opt for the 4 hour canoe trek!

    Back to the B&B we went and relaxed for a couple of hours before our dinner at Le Grand Bleu (Michelin 1 star) in Sarlat. We managed to get a reservation the day before but was told by Roy (B&B owner) that we lucked out with such a last minute reservation. Le Grand Bleu is located on Rue de la Gare which was a 20 minute walk from the B&B. We decided to walk to the restaurant since we both wanted to have some wine with dinner and didn’t want to bother with finding parking.

    Le Grand Bleu didn’t have many tables, maybe 12 at most. The décor was modern and sophisticated but not too stuffy. We were one of the first diners and were seated in a spacious table in the first room. We both decided on the 49 euro menu which comes with an entrée, a plat (meat or fish) and a dessert. You can also choose the 65 euro menu which comes with the above plus an additional meat or fish. There was also a less expensive menu at 36/50 euros (with different choices of entrée/plats from the above 49/60 euros menu) with the only difference being the additional plat of meat or fish.

    If I remembered correctly, I had the foie gras with a sancerre sorbet for the plat and the aubrac beef for the entrée. The beef was cooked to perfection for a medium rare. I had the soufflé for dessert but I think the restaurant did a better job with the savories than the desserts. I think H had the fish (he’s more health conscious than I am!) and a fruit salad thing for dessert. I forgot what he had for the appetizer. We were also served petits fours with our mint infusion. Service was impeccable and attentive without being intrusive. Le Grand Bleu deserves its 1 star Michelin rating. Dinner came to 130 euros total with a half bottle of wine (forgot what we had…).

    We tucked in for an early night as we were exhausted from the day’s activities!

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    A word on the Dordogne - the river was REALLY low when you were here. Much of France, including the south-west has been suffering from drought all year, and some of us wondered if there would even be enough water for canoes. There was, but not by much.

    On the other hand, there probably were a LOT of tourists in Sarlat when you were there. It's a very popular place, especially in summer. May and September are much nicer. When we first started going there was lots of farm equipment and local stuff in the main street, but there is less now,and certainly you wouldn't have seen it at that time of year. The market on Wednesday, which is just food would perhaps have been more interesting. We go to Souillac, which is much smaller, but more local.

    Finally, I really do wonder about the owners of your B&B. There's no reason why you wouldn't use a local butcher, but I buy ham and pork every week from the Vaux truck - excellent charcuterie, cheese and fish from other vendors. I have never had a problem, and I doubt that French people buying meat and fish from market vendors have either. They wouldn't put up with anything that wasn't fresh. Not to mention European regulations.

    Strawberries - glad you like gariguettes. They are wonderful, but usually only available in the spring. We get them in the Dordogne in late March, through to about May usually. They have a sweet, almost wild strawberry taste. You may have had Mara des Bois, a bigger strawberry, but also with a wild strawberry taste. They don't last long - have to be eaten within a day or two, which is never a problem with us. We really are spoiled with strawberries, most of which are grown locally - tobacco growers converting to strawberries. We get them from spring right through to October.

    So come back again in the spring or the autumn - it's even nicer.

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    Carlux - you're absolutely right that I did go to the Sarlat market during the high season. Oh well..I guess if I couldn't beat them, might as well join them!

    Yes!!! You're also right about the strawberries being mara des bois. And yes "wild strawberries" is a good way to describe their taste. I long to have one of those right now!

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    I've been followint taconic's TR on the Dordogne and they led me to your TR.

    I am loving all of the details as we plan to travel there in Sept.'12. It's wonderful that you are comfortable touring on your own.

    You have a good eye for photography, the photos are top-knotch. =D>

    I also like the bold headings but don't get the "before and after" thing to do it. Help!

    This would have been the year to extend our usual Sept. in Paris trip as the weather was lovely. We were there from Sept.26-Oct.5'11. Usually we do get into the countryside for a week or so and I'm sorry we didn't see the Dordogne this year. After your interesting TR(and that of taconic) we must do it next year.

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    TPAYT - Thanks for your compliments on my TR and photos. Will try to get more photos up this weekend.

    PS: I read your Paris trip report last week and it was fantastic!


    Great to hear that you're going to the Dordogne next year. I imagine September would be a lovely time of the year to be there.

    I'm not sure how far along you are in your research for your Dordogne trip but you might find my thread below of help in planning your trip.

    http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/dordogne-and-toulouse-itinerary-and-logistics-pls-help.cfm

    Happy planning!!

    PS: As for the bolding, let's use an example. Say you want to bold the phrase "I love Paris". You need to type it exactly as below but do omit the space i inserted after the "<" at the beginning and at the end of the phrase (I had to remove the space to show you what you need to type to get the bold.

    Eg: Type it as such but omit the space after the "<"

    < b>I love Paris< /b>

    Does it work??

    PPS: Can you please show me how you do the hand clapping emotion? I've always seen it on the board but never figured out how it is done! Many thanks

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    Day 9 – July 2 – A Lazy Sunday in Sarlat

    H and I had another slow start to this gorgeous Sunday morning in Sarlat. We didn’t set out from the B&B until close to noon and decided to have an outdoor lunch at Chez Le Gaulois (we were so done with canard done in whatever way possible by this point). We sat at one of the outdoor tables and ordered pretty much the same items as we did on the evening of his arrival.

    After lunch H packed his bags and we were soon off to the Brive airport to catch his 4:30 (or maybe 5pm) Cityjet flight back to London. The drive was about an hour from Sarlat. I had some problems finding the Brive airport on the GPS. In fact, I had selected the wrong airport but luckily saw a huge sign to turn off at a particular roundabout when the GPS still said I had another 15 minutes to go. The correct destination for the newly built Brive airport should be “L’aeroport Brive Valley de la Dordogne” in the town of Nespouls (not Brive!) So be careful if you’re inputting this airport into your GPS (FYI – I used a TomTom). Also note that this airport is shown as

    There are a couple of gas stations a few km from the Brive airport which was where I filled up when I returned the car a few days later. I don’t recall the name of this town but it may have been Cressensac. You will definitely pass by this town if you’re coming from Sarlat. The station opens at 8am and you can pay cash inside. Otherwise, you will need to use a credit card.

    When I reserved the car with Kemwel, I had noted that my drop-off point for the car would be this airport. Kemwel’s system shows that the airport is only opened at certain time. I was worried as to how I would return the car on the day of my departure since the desk was not opened when I would be at the airport. I asked the lady at the Cityjet check-in counter and she assured me that you can just drop off the keys into the key slot of my respective car rental agency (there was a row of desk for all the major car rentals but apparently no one mans the station unless there’s a confirmed reservation). This was later confirmed by the proprietor of the St. Cyprien B&B where I stayed when I asked her to call Europcar to confirm this arrangement. So just FYI for those of you returning your car to L’aeroport Brive Valley de la Dordogne.

    The drive to and from Sarlat to the airport was uneventful. If there’s an award for the world’s tiniest airport, this one would be the winner! I could see my car in the parking lot, the check-in counters, the x-ray machine and the plane all within my peripheral vision if I sit at the café. Check-in was a breeze for H. It literally took all of 5 minutes. We noticed that most people didn’t start arriving until an hour to 45 minutes before the flight. At this point the tiny café area was jammed with a plane-load full of passengers and lots of screaming children/babies. Not very pleasant.

    And if you are planning to eat at the airport, be warned that the pickings are slim. There are a couple of vending machines and a coffee bar selling items that were not too appetizing (unless you’re on the verge of passing out from hunger). So if you are thinking of having a bite to eat before your flight, you’re better off bringing your own food or fill up before you arrive.

    I did notice that the landscape was not as scenic the closer we got to the airport. I’m not sure if this is just because of the route that I was on or an actual change of the landscape.

    Although I was feeling lazy when I got back to Sarlat, I realized I haven’t taken many photos of the old city so I did a walk around Sarlat and wandered into the side streets on the other side of Rue de la Republique that I haven’t gone to previously. Then I ordered a take-away pizza to enjoy at the B&B and had a lazy evening of lounging around in my room.

    It was indeed a lazy Sunday in Sarlat.

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    Smileys on Fodors

    As you can see, you helped me with the bold writing. Now it's your turn to pick a smiley.

    http://www.fodors.com/community/smileys/

    BTW, they only work on Fodors.

    Thanks for the Dordogne thread. Also, I have a question for you that I asked of taconic traveler----If you were to choose 2 towns to stay in the Dordogne, which would they be?

    Looking forward to your Sarlat photos.

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    <<I meant to say canoeing instead of kayaking in my last entry. I'm nowhere athetletic enough to do a 9km kayak trip down the Dordogne!>>

    For future reference, kayaking on the Dordogne is FAR easier than canoeing.

    And we and all the French folks we know in the area have no problem purchasing meats and cheeses of all kinds from the market trucks. I thought that was a really strange warning.

    Your report is transporting me back to my second home!

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    Loved your photos from the 13th. Still enjoying this and finding the airport details very helpful.

    Also, if you select the actual smiley, rather than the html code, you can insert them in emails. At least in Google emails.

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    TPAYT - Bravo on the bolding! And thanks for the link to the smileys \:D/

    How long will you have in the Dordogne? If you only have a week, I would suggest to stay 2 nights in Rocamadour and the remaining nights in Sarlat. Rocamadour is too far to do as a day trip from Sarlat so its advisable to stay there for a couple of nights if you plan on seeing Rocamadour, Gouffre de Padirac and the small villages in this area.

    My conclusion of Sarlat is that I probably wouldn't stay there again when I go back to the Dordogne because I would prefer to be further out in the "country". I find Sarlat a tad too touristy. However I think Sarlat is great base for a first time visitor if you're there for a week. (likewise, I wouldn't have chosen St. Cyprien over Sarlat if I only had a week for this trip) The main reasn for basing in Sarlat is that you're in a decent size town and have many dining options (within walking distance) to choose from. This is especially handy if you/spouse want to have wine at dinner! It also comes in handy to be in Sarlat for the market day (Wed and Sat) as you can easily walk to the market without worryng about parking (guests at the B&B in St. Cyprien shared some pretty horrendous parking stories re: market day in Sarlat. It is a gong show to say the least)!

    By the way, I really loved the Tarn (eg: Cordes; day 1-3 of my trip) region and wished I stayed there longer than 2 days. I'll definitely go back there to explore the surrounding area (likely combinging it as a Languedoc trip), especially to see the Gorges du Tarn. But this would be too much to do if you only have one week in the Dordogne. For one week, you really have to narrow down the area you want to see and savour the experience (versus driving a lot per day)

    St. Cirq - I'm glad you are enjoying the trip report :) BTW, I drove into your hamlet when I saw a turn-off for it en route to somewhere which I forgot now(need to check my notes). I recalled that was your hamlet because of your screen name and the numerous valuable tips you provided on my previous threads. Do you still own your house in St.Cirq? What a lovely hamlet. I would love to have a second home in this part of the world!


    TDudette/ParisAmsterdam - Thank you for the emoticon tips!

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    Apologies that the trip report hasn’t been very exciting for the last couple of days since I haven’t been doing many tourist activities and just wanted to chill out! the TR will get better once I get going again in Day 11.

    Day 10 – July 3 – Moving from Sarlat to St. Cyprien


    The day started off as a cloudy one. I packed up my bags so the housekeeper can clean up for the room for the incoming guests but left my luggage in the room until my departure late that afternoon. I didn’t get going until it was almost noon and my stomach started to rumble since I didn’t have breakfast except for a cup of coffee (I do love the nespresso machine that the Bowens have in the common area). Roy suggested I have lunch at the restaurant in the hotel that was just around the corner but the restaurant was closed for lunch. Then I decided to have lunch at La Petit Boire where I had checked the menu the day before (but was closed since it was Sunday). La Petit Boire is located diagonally across from Chez Le Gaulois near the tourism office.

    Luckily I got there before the lunch rush so I was able to grab one of the sidewalk tables covered by an awning. I did the 3 course tasting menu because the value was far better than ordering a la carte and the choices were appetizing enough. I had a duck gizzard salad which was very nice and followed by a duck confit cassolet. Let’s just say cassolet is not a good choice on a summer day! I declined dessert and had a noisette instead. The meal was decent and I would classify this as one of the more touristy restaurants in Sarlat.

    The clouds have cleared at this point and the sun was peaking through. I wandered into the square behind the cathedral where there is a well. (sorry, I don’t remember the name of this square and a google search did not come up with anything). I don’t know what it is but I just love being in this square. More clicks on the camera followed before returning to La Lanterne.

    I left La Lanterne at 3pm after biding farewell to the Bowens and was on my way to St. Cyprien which would be my home for the next 5 nights. I came upon a beautiful sunflower field somewhere near Domme and stopped to take photos. I don’t know what it is about sunflower fields but I just can’t seem to get enough of them!

    The B&B is located in a hamlet outside of St. Cyprien which was exactly the rural France I was looking for. I had no problem finding the B&B (all thanks to my wonderful TomTom) even though it was pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I highly doubt I would have been able to find the B&B without the GPS!

    After settling in, it was already almost 7pm so I drove to the village of Meyrals which was located just 4km from the B&B. I had dinner in one of the two resturants in Meyrals which was called Merenda (I was advised by the B&B not to go to the other one due to the mediocre food. Don’t worry, the B&B owner here is much friendlier and hospitable in comparison to the Bowens. They also speak fluent French unlike the Bowens.). The restaurant is located on the 2nd floor (with a tabac on the ground floor) and had tables on the patio. I had one of the patio tables which had a magnificent view of the valley basking in the soft dusk sunlight. What a gorgeous view!!

    I didn’t want anymore canard so I had a vegetarian pizza which was quite delicious (Just in case you noticed that I’ve had several meals of pizza, I want to say that I hardly ever eat pizza at home. I guess I’m just overwhelmed with all the French food and wanted something more “normal”). The pizza was great and the service was very friendly in this family-run restaurant. I felt like I was one of the locals eating in this local haunt!

    Up next: Font de Gaume, meandering along the Vezere…

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    Why am I not surprised that your Sarlat B&B owners didn't speak French??????????? I have been holding back all my nasty comments about people (unfortunately mostly British) who move here and never learn to speak French or integrate into French society. I will continue to hold them back, but it really is a shame. I always wonder what would happen to French people who moved into a small English town and assumed they would never have to learn English. I suspect their neighbours would be less understanding than most of the French people I know who are just mystified by people who move to France and never learn French.

    I hope when you were in Meyrals, you tried Le Jardin D'Epicure, which has better, more sophisticated food than many of the local restaurants. Marina, who runs it with her partner, is the daughter of our plumber - one of our sources for good restaurant recommendations.

    We have a soft spot for the Meyrals area, as we spent a week there the first time we came to the Dordogne. A week in the centre of Sarat - in May, in 1987, so less busy than summer. Then a week in a farmhouse in Castels. Despite cool weather, and a fair amount of rain, we fell in love with the area - and still feel the same way, having lived there for more than 17 years now.

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    Thanks for the tips on where to stay. We probably would do 10 days in the region and a few in Paris. We'd like to stay longer, but our cats will not approve. We prefer to have an apt. but realize that most of them are rented on a weekly basis. Therefore, we will also look at B&B's and hotels.

    As the snow starts to fly here in Wisconsin I will have plenty of time on the computer to go through the Fodorite"s suggestions. I do love the planning. It adds months to the trip.

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    Oh boy, have to agree with Carlux about the (mainly) Brits who move to the Dordogne and never learn French. It's shameful. How can you run a B&B and not know the local language? Beats me.

    Anyway, just wanted to say that the owner of La Merenda is (or used to be) a Hungarian man who was the first person to take me house hunting in the Dordogne. He bought the place (La Merenda) when it was in complete ruins and lovingly built it back up and turned it into a restaurant/bar. Before he made it a restaurant, when it was just a bar, we used to go there when my kids were really small because it was such a friendly place. We'd have a glass of wine and talk with the owner and the locals and the kids could run around and play. I have such fond memories of that - and the brocante owner across the street who was such a gossip! Meyrals is an interesting little spot and I've enjoyed watching it change over the years.

    And yes, I still have my house in StCirq.

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    Apologies for the hiatus. Work has been crazy the past week!!

    Day 11 – July 4 – 20,000 years of history staring in your face. Awe-struck.

    I had an 11am appointment at Font de Gaume for an English tour. After an impressive breakfast spread in the covered courtyard, I drove the short distance to Font de Gaume which is located near the town of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil (I think most people just call this town Les Eyzies). The ticket was purchased almost 4 months in advance knowing that only a limited number of people are allowed into the cave per day and I wanted an English tour.

    After getting my ticket and going through the gift shop, an up-hill path (approx 400m) takes you to the entrance of the cave. I was early so I was the only one walking the path. I thought to myself that mankind was in this area some 25,000 years ago. How do you even begin to grasp that? 25,000 years!!! That’s like time in a different dimension. Wow.

    I waited outside the cave (there’s only one entrance and it is heavily gated) chatting with a lovely American couple. Soon the remaining people on the 11am tour arrived. The previous group emerged from the cave shortly before 11 and the tour guide jokingly said “Ha, here’s the group from the previous night”.

    We had to leave all of our belongings in this locked area before we could enter the cave. It was cold inside the cave which has very low ceilings. Unfortunately it was hard to understand the tour guide’s heavily accented English so I missed a lot of good information. The paintings are very impressive and I was awe-struck that I was starring at something that was made some 20,000 years ago. I was especially impressed with the use of the contours of rocks to accent the animals. I left the cave speechless.

    The tour last about an hour and I had a decent lunch in one of the touristy restaurants in Les Eyzies. I was planning to go to the pre-history museum in Les Eyzies but felt like going for a drive in my air-conditioned car instead on this hot summer day. I decided to do one of the suggested routes in the Green Guide which involves taking the D706 to St. Leon sur Vezere (another most beautiful villages in France) and ultimately to Montignac. It was a beautiful drive through shaded windy (and very narrow) lane along the Vezere. I took the turn-off to St. Leon sur Vezere but couldn’t find parking so unfortunately I couldn’t walk around. I intended to go all the way north to Montignac but got sidetracked when I saw a huge Intermarche.

    Now there’s something I love about foreign grocery stores, all the things that look so similar yet so different. I ended up spending almost an hour inside the Intermarche by carefully wandering the cheese, deli and local wine sections. I picked up some items which I can use to throw together a light dinner for that evening.

    After arriving back in the B&B, I fixed myself a delicious mid-afternoon snack of French cantaloupe with perigord noir ham, brebis cheese, canned mackerel and preserved white asparagus. I was very pleased with my snack of French goodies. Imagine my horror when I read the label on the glass of white asparagus which says it was made in China! Shocking!!!

    The rest of the day was spent lying on the lawn chair in the backyard of the B&B. At around dusk, I took a walk around quiet hamlet and came upon a magnificent view of the sun setting behind the tree line. The cloud formation was spectacular at that very precise moment. Words cannot do its justice.

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    Too bad you didn't manage to stop in St Leon - a beautiful place, with one of the most wonderful Romanesque churches in France.

    I agree that supermarkets in other countries are often really interesting. We like to wander around them too. And you must come back in the spring, when the white asparagus is fresh - and local. Needs cooking though, which is not easy in a B&B.

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    Carlux - Unfortunately I didn't go to Jardin d'Epicure in Castels. I really enjoyed my time in Meyrals/St. Cyprien. It's great to be out in the country when I spend most of the year living in a concrete jungle!

    I had no idea St. Leon had a romanesque churches. What a shame that I couldn't find a parking spot that day.

    This just means I need to come back to the Dordogne sooner rather than later.

    Yes, the white asparagus!!

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    Day 12 - July 5 - Almost made it to Gouffre de Proumeyssac

    Another lazy morning at the B&B on this overcast day in St.Cyprien. I finally got on the road at noon and did one of the driving tours in the Michelin Guide called the Vezere to the Dordogne (80km round trip - allow one day as suggested by the GG). I started the journey in St.Cyprien and headed north on the D49 to Campagne and St.Cirq for a quick look around.

    Then my plan was to go to the Gouffre de Promeyssac (I read about this in one of the Dordogne tourism magazines and the caves looked really interesting. Also rated 2 stars in the GG). When I arrived at the Gouffre, the parking lot was almost full but I found an empty spot without too much trouble. The Gouffre's main attraction is the cave but it also doubles as a family park where families can have picnics and kids can play around. So if you're here with your kids, it's a great place for a picnic lunch and let your kids run around. I headed to the cashier to buy my ticket to ride the "basket" down to the bottom of the Gouffre. Now there are 2 ways to go down to the Gouffre, one is on foot led by a guide and the other way is in this "basket" that fits about 8 people and used to be horse-drawn. The basket was how people entered the caves originally. Here's the link to the cave:

    http://www.perigord.com/proumeyssac/

    The lady at the counter said I could go on the next tour in about 20 mins (I presume it would otherwise be a wait if I wasn't traveling alone as they were taking appointments at a near by desk) When I reached into my purse, I realized I left my wallet (including my drivers license!) in the B&B!! I was horrified that I was driving in a foreign country where I can't speak the language without my driver license!! I envisioned myself getting pulled over by the French PoPo and getting locked up in a prison cell in the next village's prison cell! Panic set it but I still managed to ask for a reservation for the "basket' ride for the next day.

    I drove back to the B&B with extra caution and obeyed the speed limit. It was an unexciting ride and I made it back to the B&B without being arrested by the local PoPo.

    The rest of the day was spent reading in the backyard (this overcast day was a bit too cold for a swim in the pool). The B&B proprietors cook dinners for the guests (26 euros per person excl drinks) a few nights a week and tonight was one of those nights. I had signed up for the dinner a couple of nights before as I've read reviews on TA that the dinners are quite good. At about 7:30, other B&B guests and myself settled in the courtyard for our 5 course meal. The main entree was roasted chicken which was very tender and juicy (am so glad that duck wasn't being served!).

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    Thanks for the encouragement Taconic! Apologies that the updates have not been very frequent the past week.

    I'm taking notes from your trip report for a future trp to the Dordogne - seems like I missed out on some really nice places!

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    Day 13 - July 7 - Finally Made it to Gouffre de Proumeyssac

    I woke up to an overcast day in St.Cyprien. After breakfast, I drove to Limeuil, which is another most beautiful village in France. I hiked up the very steep "main drag" and had a look around town. Limeuil is at the confluence of the Vezere and the Dordogne. The rivers weren't particular spectacular on this overcast day.

    Next stop was Prunat to see the church. There was a restaurant next to church called Julien and I thought it would be a nice place for lunch. After visiting the church (which was ok), I saw a nice restaurant next to the church which I thought would be a good place for lunch. The restaurant is called Julien. There were still a few empty tables outside but the proprietor apologetically told me that all the tables were reserved. Turns out the restaurant is really full and he only had an opening next week (if my memory served me correctly). I later talked to the B&B owners about this restaurant and they agreed it's one of the best restaurants here. I've marked this one down as a must try when I return to the Dordogne.

    Leaving Prunat on an empty stomach, I drove to Le Bugue and had a quick lunch at Chez Monique. I ordered open sandwich of smoked salmon, warm potatoes and a sprinkle of chives. It was so simple yet very delicious.

    Then I was off to my 2pm reservation, which I made the day before, at Gouffre de Promeyssac. The 2pm slot only had 8 people as that was the maximum number of people who can fit into the basket (aka the "nicelle" in French). The basket was the original way that the miners entered the mine. The basket ride (including entrance fee into the cave) was 16,50 euros. You can also opt to walk into the cave (for a price which I cannot remember). I can't say for sure if it is something I would recommend if you're here as a family as 16.50 per person seems rather expensive. The cave was spectacular and I would highly recommend it (either by entering with the nicelle or by walking).

    After an hour in the cave, my afternoon laziness was setting in so I decided to drive back to the B&B for a break and a dip into the pool (the sun finally came out!)

    Around 6:30pm, I drove to the weekly night market of St.Cyprien. To secure myself a parking spot, I decided to get there a bit earlier. I saw merchants setting up on the main street but the goods on sale weren't particularly "french". Similar to the Sarlat market, there were a lot of stalls selling trinkets made in China or elsewhere in Asia. They definitely didn't look very local to me! The parking lot was the "food fair" but the food didn't look particularly appetizing so I took a pass and decided to head to Merenda again for dinner on the patio. There's just something I love about Merenda.

    Tomorrow would be my last day in the Dordorgne...

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    Day 14 - July 8 - Last Day in the Dordogne

    Today would be my last full day in the Dordogne before heading to London. I had mixed feelings about leaving - on one hand, I was sad to be leaving such a beautiful place but at the same time I always want to leave a place on a high note. Now don't get me wrong, I love being in this beautiful part of France but I do miss the pace and conveniences of being in a big city. Living in a city definitely makes me appreciate the peace and tranquility of country life that much more.

    The weather was a mix of sun and clouds. After another savory breakfast on the patio with fellow guests, I did a load of laundry and hung the clothes out on a clothing line close to the neighboring horse farm. For a city person like myself, having my clothes hung outdoor is quite an "unique" experience. Nothing beats the smell of fresh laundry that's been dried in the sun. While I was hanging my clothes, a little brown pony came up to the fence and just watched while I did my laundry. Now that's not something you experience doing laundry at home!

    The only item on my agenda today is the Jardin de Marquessac. I arrived there at 11:45, which was just in time for the 12pm English tour of the garden (and it's free too!). The group only had 5 people and the tour guide (speaking fluent English) showed us to the look out where you can see all 3 castles and toured the chateau together. We were then left on our own. Feeling some hunger pangs, I headed to the restaurant and sat at one of the covered outdoor tables with a fantastic view of the Beynac castle and the Dordogne valley. I ordered a Kir as the apertif followed by a salad with an additional cabecou.

    One of the four resident peacocks paid the diners a visit and paced back and forth on the ledge in front of the tables, as if taunting us with its beautiful feathers. Too bad it didn't open its tail!

    After lunch I visited the famous boxwood garden of Marquessac and had my happy camera moments. I then followed the guided walks suggested by the garden's map which offered some magnificent views of the Dordogne valley including Beynac and Roques Gageac. I walked to the Belvedere which was situated at the other end of the garden.

    I then set off for a drive on the D53 (Thank you Stu for this suggestion!). However, I drove the route from Castelnaud to Belves which was backwards from the original recommendation from Stu. Nonetheless, the route was fantastic and I ended up in Belves which is another most beautiful in France. Belves was having its annual village party soon and the whole town was decorated in colorful banners and decorations. Each street has its own colors and some of the major merchants (eg: banks, la poste) even did their logos in these colorful plastic decorations. The town square was even more spectacular with colorful banners strung from building to building. I wish I could be there for the fete!

    It was then back to St. Cyprien, followed by a sunny afternoon by the pool. And of course, where would I head to for my final dinner in the Dordogne? Merenda, of course!


    Day 15 - July 9 - Au Revoir Perigord Noir

    I couldn't have picked a better day to leave the Dorodgne because it was a cold and rainy day! My flight to London via cityjet (a subsidiary of Air France), which cost 80 euros including all taxes, was at 10:30. The drive from St. Cyprien to L'aeroport Brive Valley de la Dordogne was about 1.5 hour. I set out from St. Cyprien at around 7:30 so I could have a nice and relaxing morning drive without feeling rushed.

    Since I had driven my friend H to the same airport a week ago, I already knew that there would be a gas station (about 2km from the airport) which was manned after 8am. The check-in took all of 2 minutes and I then returned the rental car to the rental car parking lot (it was raining so hard that I had to illegally park the car in front of the airport to unload the luggage. Since I was on my own, I had to check in the luggage first before returning the car to the lot). I took about 20 photos of the car, exterior and interior, in case there would be any dispute with Europcar (and there was none). If you read my previous entries, you would know that I was very apprehensive about returning the rental car to an unmanned drop box. But the process was easy - just taped the parking lot ticket to the key and dropped it in. Voila! I really didn't need to waste so much energy worrying about this.


    Sadly this marked the end of my wonderful 2 week stay in the Dordogne. Until next summer...


    Thanks for reading my trip report!

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    I'm glad to see you got back to finishing your report - and very glad to hear that getting the car and yourself to the airport was without drama.

    Thanks for the heads-up about Belves. The day I went they were having a market and it was a real locals' market with lots of food products and very little of the tat you mentioned about St Cyprien. In fact it was just as I hoped a French market would be which pleased me as I had opted out of the Sarlat market.

    I notice you stayed true to your vow re the lodgings ;-). Best wishes for the coming holidays and your future travels.

    From Aussie M

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    Hi Eigasuki

    Thanks for reading my trip report! Too bad I wasn't there for Belves's market. It sounds like something I would have really enjoyed. Did you see the decorations set up for the fete?

    Happy holidays and all the best in your upcoming travels. May our paths cross again...

    From Canadian M

    PS: Which vow re: lodgings?

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